Should You Wear a Face Mask While Exercising? Here's What the CDC Says

Some exercises are better suited for wearing a face mask than others.

Face masks have become an everyday part of our lives, but since they're relatively new for most of us, many people still have questions about when and how you should wear them. For instance, you might not know that you can't wear face masks in certain places, including banks, courtrooms, and TSA checkpoints. Many people also worry about the safety of wearing face masks while doing certain activities, like working out. So, should you wear a face mask while exercising?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should wear a face mask while exercising if you're around other people. This helps to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

"The heavier you breathe, the farther your particles and droplets will spread around you," says Lynell Ross, certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise and founder of Zivadream. "Even talking with a normal heart rate may spray droplets six feet or more, and when we breathe heavier while exercising, the little droplets called aerosols may travel farther and stay in the air longer. That's why the CDC recommends that we wear face masks while exercising due to COVID-19."

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The CDC says that "wearing cloth face coverings is most important when physical distancing is difficult and when exercise type and intensity allows." This includes activities like walking on an indoor track, stretching, or doing low-intensity forms of yoga indoors.

However, some workouts may not be suitable for wearing a face mask. Bonnie Frankel, fitness expert and author of Bonnie's Theory: Finding the Right Exercise, explains that wearing a mask "can inhibit your oxygen intake and can cause cramps in various body part," which prevents you from using your body to its max during a workout. The CDC even asks that people consider doing "vigorous-intensity exercise" outdoors when possible, staying at least six feet away from others so that you can forgo a face mask.

Instructor and student workout at gym after pandemic reopening. They work hard with weights to stay in shape

"It is important to understand that the 'better' a mask is, the worse it is, too," says Paul Claybook, MS, founder of wellness and fitness website Super Duper Nutrition. "When we say a mask is 'good,' what we really mean is that it effectively limits what can enter the mask (like the COVID virus) and what can exit the mask (like, again, COVID). Thus, a 'good' mask, by definition, will also better limit the amount of oxygen that can enter the mask, as well as the carbon dioxide that can exit, than a not-so-good mask. Having less oxygen can be problematic, and can lead to issues like fatigue and fainting."

But that doesn't mean it's always dangerous to wear a face mask while exercising—which is why the CDC recommends it during low-intensity, indoor exercises. Ross says that it is generally safe to wear a face mask while exercising, unless you have "trouble breathing, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or any other heart or lung diseases."

"Anyone who has anxiety about wearing a mask and anyone with a disability that prevents them from wearing a face covering should not wear a mask," Ross says. "If it isn't safe for a person to wear a face mask, then walking outside or exercising at home is a better option for them." If you do wear a mask, she recommends 100-percent cotton or T-shirt material masks while exercising, as they allow for better airflow. And for more exercise risks, discover The One Exercise That Makes Your Coronavirus Risk Skyrocket.

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